The Abacus and the Cross

  • by Nancy Marie Brown
  • Narrated by Suzanne Toren
  • 11 hrs and 13 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

The medieval Catholic Church, widely considered a source of intolerance and inquisitorial fervor, was not anti-science during the Dark Ages - in fact, the pope in the year 1000 was the leading mathematician and astronomer of his day. Called The Scientist Pope, Gerbert of Aurillac rose from peasant beginnings to lead the church. By turns a teacher, traitor, kingmaker, and visionary, Gerbert is the first Christian known to teach math using the nine Arabic numerals and zero.
In The Abacus and the Cross, Nancy Marie Brown skillfully explores the new learning Gerbert brought to Europe. A fascinating narrative of one remarkable math teacher, The Abacus and the Cross will captivate readers of history, science, and religion alike.


What the Critics Say

"A thoroughly engrossing account of the Dark Ages and one of its Popes, both far less dark than popular histories teach.... The years around 1000 CE seem to be every medieval historian’s favorite era, but Brown’s welcome addition to the genre provides a lively, eye-opening portrait of a sophisticated Europe whose intellectual leaders showed genuine interest in learning." (Kirkus Reviews)


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

I liked the second half better than the first

If you like science and history and religion, then I think you will like this book. But be warned, the first part can be tedious. The author goes into the history of different items, including parchment. I was glad I was listening to the book instead of reading it, so I could "zone out" during parts I wasn't interested in. On the other hand, the narrator (who does a great job, BTW), has to describe details of the numerals that can't be seen. The second part was more about Gerbert's life, and like all good gossip, was fascinating. I've always been interested in the Holy Roman Empire, and what role it played in history. This gives a close-up view of how the Emperor chose popes. And how the pope was viewed by the other bishops. And the conflict between the people of Rome, who had their bishop chosen by an outsider, and all the other conflicts going on at the time. And I was happy to see how the author gave due respect to the women in history, too. So I think that scholars will enjoy the book, but the first part might be bit slow.
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- Veronica

Surprising insights into an oft-misunderstood era

Would you listen to The Abacus and the Cross again? Why?

No, I generally listen only once to any audiobook.

What other book might you compare The Abacus and the Cross to and why?

For All the Tea in China by Rose -- because it, too, was an interesting story about little-known but significant events in history.

Have you listened to any of Suzanne Toren’s other performances before? How does this one compare?


Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?


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- Albert

Book Details

  • Release Date: 12-07-2010
  • Publisher: Audible Studios